A treasury of war poetry, British and American poems of the world war, 1914-1919/Poets Militant
IF I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave once her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
DEAR! of all happy in the hour, most blest
He who has found our hid security,
Assured in the dark tides of the world that rest,
And heard our word, "Who is so safe as we?"
We have found safety with all things undying,
The winds, and morning, tears of men and mirth,
The deep night, and birds singing, and clouds flying,
And sleep, and freedom, and the autumnal earth.
We have built a house that is not for Time's throwing.
We have gained a peace unshaken by pain for ever.
War knows no power. Safe shall be my going,
Secretly armed against all death's endeavour;
Safe though all safety's lost; safe where men fall;
And if these poor limbs die, safest of all.
NOW, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour,
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping,
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary,
Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move,
And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary,
And all the little emptiness of love!
Oh! we, who have known shame, we have found release there,
Where there's no ill, no grief, but sleep has mending,
Naught broken save this body, lost but breath;
Nothing to shake the laughing heart's long peace there
But only agony, and that has ending;
And the worst friend and enemy is but Death.
I HAVE A RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH . .
I HAVE a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Springs brings back blue days and fair.
It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.
God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear . . .
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true.
I shall not fail that rendezvous.
IN the glad revels, in the happy fêtes,
When cheeks are flushed, and glasses gilt and pearled
With the sweet wine of France that concentrates
The sunshine and the beauty of the world,
Drink sometimes, you whose footsteps yet may tread
The undisturbed, delightful paths of Earth,
To those whose blood, in pious duty shed,
Hallows the soil where that same wine had birth.
Here, by devoted comrades laid away,
Along our lines they slumber where they fell,
Beside the crater at the Ferme d'Alger
And up the bloody slopes of La Pompelle,
And round the city whose cathedral towers
The enemies of Beauty dared profane,
And in the mat of multicoloured flowers
That clothe the sunny chalk-fields of Champagne
Under the little crosses where they rise
The soldier rests. Now round him undismayed
The cannon thunders, and at night he lies
At peace beneath the eternal fusillade . . .
That other generations might possess—
From shame and menace free in years to come
A richer heritage of happiness,
He marched to that heroic martyrdom,
Esteeming less the forfeit that he paid
Than undishonoured that his flag might float
Over the towers of liberty, he made
His breast the bulwark and his blood the moat.
Obscurely sacrificed, his nameless tomb,
Bare of the sculptor's art, the poet's lines,
Summer shall flush with poppy-fields in bloom,
And Autumn yellow with maturing vines
There the grape-pickers at their harvesting
Shall lightly tread and load their wicker trays,
Blessing his memory as they toil and sing
In the slant sunshine of October days . . .
I love to think that if my blood should be
So privileged to sink where his has sunk,
I shall not pass from Earth entirely,
But when the banquet rings, when healths are drunk,
And faces that the joys of living fill
Glow radiant with laughter and good cheer,
In beaming cups some spark of me shall still
Brim toward the lips that once I held so dear.
So shall one coveting no higher plane
Than nature clothes in colour and flesh and tone,
Even from the grave put upward to attain
The dreams youth cherished and missed and might have known:
And that strong need that strove unsatisfied
Toward earthly beauty in all forms it wore,
Not death itself shall utterly divide
From the belovèd shapes it thirsted for.
Alas, how many an adept for whose arms
Life held delicious offerings perished here,
How many in the prime of all that charms,
Crowned with all gifts that conquer and endear!
Honour them not so much with tears and flowers,
But you with whom the sweet fulfilment lies,
Where in the anguish of atrocious hours
Turned their last thoughts and closed their dying eyes,
Rather when music on bright gatherings lays
Its tender spell, and joy is uppermost,
Be mindful of the men they were, and raise
Your glasses to them in one silent toast.
Drink to them—amorous of dear Earth as well,
They asked no tribute lovelier than this—
And in the wine that ripened where they fell,
Oh, frame your lips as though it were a kiss.
THE naked earth is warm with Spring,
And with green grass and bursting trees
Leans to the sun's gaze glorying,
And quivers in the sunny breeze;
And Life is Colour and Warmth and Light,
And a striving evermore for these;
And he is dead who will not fight;
And who dies fighting has increase.
The fighting man shall from the sun
Take warmth, and life from the glowing earth;
Speed with the light-foot winds to run,
And with the trees to newer birth;
And find, when fighting shall be done,
Great rest, and fullness after dearth.
All the bright company of Heaven
Hold him in their high comradeship,
The Dog-Star, and the Sisters Seven,
Orion's Belt and sworded hip.
The woodland trees that stand together,
They stand to him each one a friend;
They gently speak in the windy weather;
They guide to valley and ridges' end.
The kestrel hovering by day,
And the little owls that call by night,
Bid him be swift and keen as they,
As keen of ear, as swift of sight.
The blackbird sings to him, "Brother, brother,
If this be the last song you shall sing,
Sing well, for you may not sing another;
In dreary, doubtful, waiting hours,
Before the brazen frenzy starts,
The horses show him nobler powers;
O patient eyes, courageous hearts!
And when the burning moment breaks,
And all things else are out of mind,
And only Joy-of-Battle takes
Him by the throat, and makes him blind,
Through joy and blindness he shall know,
Not caring much to know, that still
Nor lead nor steel shall reach him, so
That it be not the Destined Will.
The thundering line of battle stands,
And in the air Death moans and sings;
But Day shall clasp him with strong hands,
And Night shall fold him in soft wings.
Flanders, April, 1915.
BLOSSOMS as old as May I scatter here,
And a blue wave I lifted from the stream.
It shall not know when winter days are drear
Or March is hoarse with blowing. But a-dream
The laurel boughs shall hold a canopy
Peacefully over it the winter long,
Till all the birds are back from oversea,
And April rainbows win a blackbird's song.
And when the war is over I shall take
My lute a-down to it and sing again
Songs of the whispering things amongst the brake,
And those I love shall know them by their strain.
Their airs shall be the blackbird's twilight song,
Their words shall be all flowers with fresh dew's hoar.—
But it is lonely now in winter long,
And, God! to hear the blackbird sing once more.
A LITTLE flock of clouds go down to rest
In some blue corner off the moon's highway,
With shepherd winds that shook them in the West
To borrowed shapes of earth, in bright array,
Perhaps to weave a rainbow's gay festoons
Around the lonesome isle which Brooke has made
A little England full of lovely noons,
Or dot it with his country's mountain shade.
Ah, little wanderers, when you reach that isle
Tell him, with dripping dew, they have not failed,
What he loved most; for late I roamed awhile
Thro' English fields and down her rivers sailed;
And they remember him with beauty caught
From old desires of Oriental Spring
Heard in his heart with singing overwrought;
And still on Purley Common gooseboys sing.
SONGS FROM AN EVIL WOOD
THERE is no wrath in the stars,
They do not rage in the sky;
I look from the evil wood
And find myself wondering why.
Why do they not scream out
And grapple star against star,
Seeking for blood in the wood
As all things round me are?
They do not glare like the sky
Or flash like the deeps of the wood;
But they shine softly on
In their sacred solitude.
To their high, happy haunts
Silence from us has flown,
She whom we loved of old
And know it now she is gone.
When will she come again,
Though for one second only?
She whom we loved is gone
And the whole world is lonely.
Somewhere lost in the haze
The sun goes down in the cold,
And birds in this evil wood
Chirrup home as of old;
Chirrup, stir and are still
On the high twigs frozen and thin.
There is no more noise of them now,
And the long night sets in.
Of all the wonderful things
That I have seen in the wood,
I marvel most at the birds
And their wonderful quietude.
For a giant smites with his club
All day the tops of the hill,
Sometimes he rests at night,
Oftener he beats them still.
And a dwarf with a grim black mane
Raps with repeated rage
All night in the valley below
On the wooden walls of his cage.
And the elder giants come
Sometimes, tramping from far
Through the weird and flickering light
Made by an earthly star.
And the giant with his club,
And the dwarf with rage in his breath,
And the elder giants from far,
They are all the children of Death.
They are all abroad to-night
And are breaking the hills with their brood,
And the birds are all asleep
Even in Plug Street Wood!
The great guns of England, they listen mile on mile
To the boasts of a broken War-Lord; they lift their throats and smile;
But the old woods are fallen
For a while.
The old woods are fallen; yet will they come again,
They will come back some springtime with the warm winds and the rain,
For Nature guardeth her children
Never in vain.
They will come back some season; it may be a hundred years;
It is all one to Nature with the centuries that are hers;
She shall bring back her children
And dry all their tears.
But the tears of a would-be War-Lord shall never cease to flow,
He shall weep for the poisoned armies whenever the gas-winds blow,
He shall always weep for his widows,
And all Hell shall know.
The tears of a pitiless Kaiser shallow they'll flow and wide,
Wide as the desolation made by his silly pride
When he slaughtered a little people
To stab France in her side.
Over the ragged cinders they shall flow and on and on
With the listless falling of streams that find not Oblivion,
For ages and ages of years
Till the last star is gone.
I met with Death in his country,
With his scythe and his hollow eye,
Walking the roads of Belgium.
I looked and he passed me by.
Since he passed me by in Plug Street,
In the wood of the evil name,
I shall not now lie with the heroes,
I shall not share their fame,
I shall never be as they are,
A name in the lands of the Free,
Since I looked on Death in Flanders
And he did not look at me.
FROM morn to midnight, all day through,
I laugh and play as others do,
I sin and chatter, just the same
As others with a different name.
And all year long upon the stage,
I dance and tumble and do rage
So vehemently, I scarcely see
The inner and eternal me.
I have a temple I do not
Visit, a heart I have forgot,
A self that I have never met,
A secret shrine—and yet, and yet
This sanctuary of my soul
Unwitting I keep white and whole,
Unlatched and lit, if Thou should'st care
To enter or to tarry there.
With parted lips and outstretched hands
And listening ears Thy servant stands,
Call Thou early, call Thou late,
To Thy great service dedicate.
"ALL THE HILLS AND VALES ALONG"
ALL the hills and vales along
Earth is bursting into song,
And the singers are the chaps
Who are going to die perhaps.
O sing, marching men,
Till the valleys ring again.
Give your gladness to earth's keeping,
So be glad, when you are sleeping.
Cast away regret and rue,
Think what you are marching to.
Little live, great pass.
Jesus Christ and Barabbas
Were found the same day.
This died, that went his way.
So sing with joyful breath.
For why, you are going to death.
Teeming earth will surely store
All the gladness that you pour.
Earth that never doubts nor fears,
Earth that knows of death, not tears,
Earth that bore with joyful ease
Hemlock for Socrates,
Earth that blossomed and was glad
'Neath the cross that Christ had,
Shall rejoice and blossom too
When the bullet reaches you.
Wherefore, men marching
On the road to death, sing!
Pour your gladness on earth's head,
So be merry, so be dead.
From the hills and valleys earth
Shouts back the sound of mirth,
Tramp of feet and lilt of song
Ringing all the road along.
All the music of their going,
Ringing, swinging, glad song-throwing,
Earth will echo still, when foot
Lies numb and voice mute.
On, marching men, on
To the gates of death with song.
Sow your gladness for earth's reaping,
So you may be glad, though sleeping.
Strew your gladness on earth's bed,
So be merry, so be dead.
TO MY BROTHER
THIS will I do when we have peace again,
Peace and return, to ease my heart of pain.
Crouched in the brittle reed-beds, wrapt in grey,
I'll watch the dawning of the winter's day,
The peaceful, clinging darkness of the night
That mingles with mysterious morning light,
And graceful rushes melting in the haze;
While all around in winding waterways,
The wildfowl gabble cheerfully and low,
Or wheel with pulsing whistle to and fro,
Filling the silent down with joyous song,
Swelling and dying as they sweep along;
Till shadows of vague trees deceive the eyes,
And stealthily the sun begins to rise,
Striving to smear with pink the frosted sky,
And pierce the silver mists' opacity;
Until the hazy silhouettes grow clear,
And faintest hints of colouring appear,
And the slow, throbbing, red, distorted sun
Reaches the sky, and all the large mists run,
Leaving the little ones to wreathe and shiver,
Pathetic, clinging to the friendly river;
Until the watchful heron, grim and gaunt,
Shows ghostlike, standing at his chosen haunt,
And jerkily the moorhens venture out,
Spreading swift-circled ripples round about,
And softly to the ear, and leisurely,
Querulous, comes the plaintive plover's cry;
And then maybe some whispering near by,
Some still small sound as of a happy sigh,
Shall steal upon my senses soft as air,
And, brother! I shall know that you are there.
And in the lazy summer nights I'll glide
Silently down the sleepy river's tide,
Listening to the music of the stream,
The plop of ponderously playful bream,
The water whispering around the boat,
And from afar the white owl's liquid note,
Lingering through the stillness soft and slow,
Watching the little yacht's red, homely glow,
Her vague reflection, and her clean-cut spars,
Ink-black against the silverness of the stars,
Stealthily slipping into nothingness;
While on the river's moon-splashed surfaces,
Tall shadows sweep. Then when I go to rest
It may be that my slumbers will be blessed
By the faint sound of your untroubled breath,
Proving your presence near, in spite of death.
ALL that a man might ask thou hast given me, England,
Birthright and happy childhood's long heart's-ease,
And love whose range is deep beyond all sounding
And wider than all seas:
A heart to front the world and find God in it,
Eyes blind enow but not too blind to see
The lovely things behind the dross and darkness,
And lovelier things to be;
And friends whose loyalty time nor death shall weaken,
And quenchless hope and laughter's golden store—
All that a man might ask thou hast given me, England,
Yet grant thou one thing more:
That now when envious foes would spoil thy splendour,
Unversed in arms, a dreamer such as I,
May in thy ranks be deemed not all unworthy,
England, for thee to die.
THE NEW SCHOOL
THE halls that were loud with the merry tread of young and careless feet
Are still with a stillness that is too drear to seem like holiday,
And never a gust of laughter breaks the calm of the dreaming street
Or rises to shake the ivied walls and frighten the doves away.
The dust is on book and on empty desk, and the tennis-racquet and balls
Lie still in their lonely locker and wait for a game that is never played,
And over the study and lecture-room and the river and meadow falls
A stern peace, a strange peace, a peace that War has made.
For many a youthful shoulder now is gay with an epaulet,
And the hand that was deft with a cricket-bat is defter with a sword,
And some of the lads will laugh to-day where the trench is red and wet,
And some will win on the bloody field the accolade of the Lord.
They have taken their youth and mirth away from the study and playing-ground
To a new school in an alien land beneath an alien sky;
Out in the smoke and roar of the fight their lessons and games are found,
And they who were learning how to live are learning how to die.
And after the golden day has come and the war is at an end,
A slab of bronze on the chapel wall will tell of the noble dead.
And every name on that radiant list will be the name of a friend,
A name that shall through the centuries in grateful prayers be said.
And there will be ghosts in the old school, brave ghosts with laughing eyes,
On the field with a ghostly cricket-bat, by the stream with a ghostly rod;
They will touch the hearts of the living with a flame that sanctifies,
A flame that they took with strong young hands from the altar-fires of God.
[From Main Street and Other Poems. Copyright, 1917, by George H. Doran Company.]
THE Kings of the earth are men of might,
And cities are burned for their delight,
And the skies rain death in the silent night,
And the hills belch death all day!
But the King of Heaven, Who made them all,
Is fair and gentle, and very small;
He lies in the straw, by the oxen's stall—
Let them think of Him to-day!
[From Main Street and Other Poems. Copyright, 1917, by George H. Doran Company.]
COMRADES: AN EPISODE
BEFORE, before he was aware
The "Verey" light had risen . . . on the air
It hung glistering . . .
And he could not stay his hand
From moving to the barbed wire's broken strand.
A rifle cracked.
Night waned. He was alone. A heavy shell
Whispered itself passing high, high overhead.
His wound was wet to his hand: for still it bled
On to the glimmering ground.
Then with a slow, vain smile his wound he bound,
Knowing, of course, he'd not see home again—
Home whose thought he put away.
Whispered: "Where's Mister Gates?" "Out on the wire."
"I'll get him," said one. . . .
Dawn blinked, and the fire
Of the Germans heaved up and down the line.
Too late! "I'll get him." "O the swine!
When we might get him in yet safe and whole!"
"Corporal didn't see 'un fall out on patrol,
Or he'd 'a got 'un." "Sssh!"
"No talking there."
A whisper: "'A went down at the last flare."
Meanwhile the Maxims toc-toc-tocked; their swish
Of bullets told death lurked against the wish.
No hope for him!
His corporal, as one shamed,
Vainly and helplessly his ill-luck blamed.
* * * * *
Then Gates slowly saw the morn
Break in a rosy peace through the lone thorn
By which he lay, and felt the dawn-wind pass
Whispering through the pallid, stalky grass
Of No-Man's Land. . . .
And the tears came
Scaldingly sweet, more lovely than a flame.
He closed his eyes: he thought of home
And grit his teeth. He knew no help could come. . .
* * * * *
The silent sun over the earth held sway,
Occasional rifles cracked and far away
A heedless speck, a 'plane, slid on alone,
Like a fly traversing a cliff of stone.
"I must get back," said Gates aloud, and heaved
At his body. But it lay bereaved
Of any power. He could not wait till night . . .
And he lay still. Blood swam across his sight.
Then with a groan:
"No luck ever! Well, I must die alone."
Occasional rifles cracked. A cloud that shone,
Gold-rimmed, blackened the sun and then was gone. . . .
The sun still smiled. The grass sang in its play.
Someone whistled: "Over the hills and far away."
Gates watched silently the swift, swift sun
Burning his life before it was begun. . . .
Suddenly he heard Corporal Timmins' voice: "Now then,
'Urry up with that tea."
"Hi Ginger!" "Bill!" His men!
Timmins and Jones and Wilkinson (the "bard"),
And Hughes and Simpson. It was hard
Not to see them: Wilkinson, stubby, grim,
With his "No, sir," "Yes, sir," and the slim
Simpson: "Indeed, sir?" (while it seemed he winked
Because his smiling left eye always blinked),
And Corporal Timmins, straight and blond and wise,
With his quiet-scanning, level, hazel eyes;
And all the others . . . tunics that didn't fit. . .
A dozen different sorts of eyes, O it
Was hard to lie there! Yet he must. But no:
"I've got to die, I'll get to them, I'll go."
Inch by inch he fought, breathless and mute,
Dragging his carcase like a famished brute. . . .
His head was hammering, and his eyes were dim;
A bloody sweat seemed to ooze out of him
And freeze along his spine. . . . Then he'd lie still
Before another effort of his will
Took him one nearer yard.
* * * * *
The parapet was reached.
He could not rise to it. A lookout screeched:
Three figures in one breath
Leaped up. Two figures fell on toppling death;
And Gates was lifted in. "Who's hit?" said he.
"Timmins and Jones." "Why did they that for me?—
I'm gone already!" Gently they laid him prone
And silently watched.
He twitched. They heard him moan
"Why for me?" His eyes roamed round, and none replied.
I see it was alone I should have died."
They shook their heads. Then, "Is the doctor here?"
"He's coming, sir; he's hurryin', no fear."
"No good . . .
Lift me." They lifted him.
He smiled and held his arms out to the dim,
And in a moment passed beyond their ken,
Hearing him whisper, "O my men, my men!"
In Hospital, London,
WAS there love once? I have forgotten her.
Was there grief once? Grief yet is mine.
Other loves I have, men rough, but men who stir
More grief, more joy, than love of thee and thine.
Faces cheerful, full of whimsical mirth,
Lined by the wind, burned by the sun;
Bodies enraptured by the abounding earth,
As whose children we are brethren: one.
And any moment may descend hot death
To shatter limbs! Pulp, tear, blast
Belovèd soldiers who love rough life and breath
Not less for dying faithful to the last.
O the fading eyes, the grimed face turned bony,
Oped mouth gushing, fallen head,
Lessening pressure of a hand, shrunk, clammed and stony!
O sudden spasm, release of the dead!
Was there love once? I have forgotten her.
Was there grief once? Grief yet is mine.
O loved, living, dying, heroic soldier,
All, all my joy, my grief, my love, are thine.
THE DAY'S MARCH
THE battery grides and jingles,
Mile succeeds to mile;
Shaking the noonday sunshine
The guns lunge out awhile,
And then are still awhile.
We amble along the highway;
The reeking, powdery dust
Ascends and cakes our faces
With a striped, sweaty crust.
Under the still sky's violet
The heat throbs on the air . . .
The white road's dusty radiance
Assumes a dark glare.
With a head hot and heavy
And eyes that cannot rest,
And a black heart burning
In a stifled breast,
I sit in the saddle,
I feel the road unroll,
And keep my senses straightened
Toward to-morrow's goal.
There, over unknown meadows
Which we must reach at last,
Day and night thunders
A black and chilly blast.
Heads forget heaviness,
Hearts forget spleen,
For by that mighty winnowing
Being is blown clean.
Light in the eyes again,
Strength in the hand,
A spirit dares, dies, forgives,
And can understand!
And, best! Love comes back again
After grief and shame,
And along the wind of death
Throws a clean flame.
The battery grides and jingles,
Mile succeeds to mile;
Suddenly battering the silence
The guns burst out awhile . . .
I lift my head and smile.
DIM, gradual thinning of the shapeless gloom
Shudders to drizzling daybreak that reveals
Disconsolate men who stamp their sodden boots
And turn dulled, sunken faces to the sky
Haggard and hopeless. They, who have beaten down
The stale despair of night, must now renew
Their desolation in the truce of dawn,
Murdering the livid hours that grope for peace.
Yet these, who cling to life with stubborn hands,
Can grin through storms of death and find a gap
In the clawed, cruel tangles of his defence.
They march from safety, and the bird-sung joy
Of grass-green thickets, to the land where all
Is ruin, and nothing blossoms but the sky
That hastens over them where they endure
Sad, smoking, flat horizons, reeking woods,
And foundered trench-lines volleying doom for doom.
O my brave brown companions, when your souls
Flock silently away, and the eyeless dead
Shame the wild beast of battle on the ridge,
Death will stand grieving in that field of war
Since your unvanquished hardihood is spent,
And through some mooned Valhalla there will pass
Battalions and battalions, scared from hell;
The unreturning army that was youth;
The legions who have suffered and are dust.
SHAKEN from sleep, and numbed and scarce awake,
Out in the trench with three hours' watch to take,
I blunder through the splashing mirk; and then
Hear the gruff muttering voices of the men
Crouching in cabins candle-chinked with light.
Hark! There's the big bombardment on our right
Rumbling and bumping; and the dark's a glare
Of flickering horror in the sectors where
We raid the Boche; men waiting, stiff and chilled,
Or crawling on their bellies through the wire.
"What? Stretcher-bearers wanted? Some one killed?"
Five minutes ago I heard a sniper fire:
Why did he do it? . . . Starlight overhead—
Blank stars. I'm wide-awake; and some chap's dead.
MAGPIES IN PICARDY
THE magpies in Picardy
Are more than I can tell.
They flicker down the dusty roads
And cast a magic spell
On the men who march through Picardy,
Through Picardy to hell.
(The blackbird flies with panic,
The swallow goes like light,
The finches move like ladies,
The owl floats by at night;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as artists might.)
A magpie in Picardy
Told me secret things—
Of the music in white feathers,
And the sunlight that sings
And dances in deep shadows—
He told me with his wings.
(The hawk is cruel and rigid,
He watches from a height;
The rook is slow and sombre,
The robin loves to fight;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as lovers might.)
He told me that in Picardy,
An age ago or more,
While all his fathers still were eggs,
These dusty highways bore
Brown, singing soldiers marching out
Through Picardy to war.
He said that still through chaos
Works on the ancient plan,
And two things have altered not
Since first the world began—
The beauty of the wild green earth
And the bravery of man.
(For the sparrow flies unthinking
And quarrels in his flight.
The heron trails his legs behind,
The lark goes out of sight;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as poets might.)
OUT of the smoke of men's wrath,
The red mist of anger,
As a wraith of sleep,
A boy's face, white and tense,
Convulsed with terror and hate,
The lips trembling. . . .
Then a red smear, falling. . . .
I thrust aside the cloud, as it were tangible,
Blinded with a mist of blood.
The face cometh again
As a wraith of sleep:
A boy's face, delicate and blond,
The very mask of God,
WE are here in a wood of little beeches:
And the leaves are like black lace
Against a sky of nacre.
One bough of clear promise
Across the moon.
It is in this wise that God speaketh unto me.
He layeth hands of healing upon my flesh,
Stilling it in an eternal peace,
Until my soul reaches out myriad and infinite hands
And is eased of its hunger.
And I know that this passes:
This implacable fury and torment of men,
As a thing insensate and vain:
And the stillness hath said unto me,
Over the tumult of sounds and shaken flame,
Out of the terrible beauty of wrath,
I alone am eternal.
One bough of clear promise
Across the moon.
ENDLESS lanes sunken in the clay,
Bays, and traverses, fringed with wasted herbage,
Seed-pods of blue scabious, and some lingering blooms;
And the sky, seen as from a well,
Brilliant with frosty stars.
We stumble, cursing, on the slippery duck-boards.
Goaded like the damned by some invisible wrath,
A will stronger than weariness, stronger than animal fear,
Implacable and monotonous.
Here a shaft, slanting, and below
A dusty and flickering light from one feeble candle
And prone figures sleeping uneasily,
And men who cannot sleep,
With faces impassive as masks,
Bright, feverish eyes, and drawn lips,
Sad, pitiless, terrible faces,
Each an incarnate curse.
Here in a bay, a helmeted sentry
Silent and motionless, watching while two sleep,
And he sees before him
With indifferent eyes the blasted and torn land
Peopled with stiff prone forms, stupidly rigid,
As tho' they had not been men.
Dead are the lips where love laughed or sang,
The hands of youth eager to lay hold of life,
Eyes that have laughed to eyes,
And these were begotten,
O Love, and lived lightly, and burnt
With the lust of a man's first strength: ere they were rent,
Almost at unawares, savagely; and strewn
In bloody fragments, to be the carrion
Of rats and crows.
And the sentry moves not, searching
Night for menace with weary eyes.
THE moon swims in milkiness,
The road glimmers curving down into the wooded valley,
And with a clashing and creaking of tackle and axles
The train of limbers passes me, and the mules
Splash me with mud, thrusting me from the road into puddles,
Straining at the tackle with a bitter patience,
Passing me. . . .
And into a patch of moonlight,
With beautiful curved necks and manes,
Heads reined back, and nostrils dilated,
Impatient of restraint,
Pass two grey stallions,
Such as Oenetia bred;
Beautiful as the horses of Hippolytus
Carven on some antique frieze.
And my heart rejoices seeing their strength in play,
The mere animal life of them,
As a thing passionate and proud.
Then again the limbers and grotesque mules.
NO MAN'S LAND
NO MAN'S LAND is an eerie sight
At early dawn in the pale grey light.
Never a house and never a hedge
In No Man's Land from edge to edge.
And never a living soul walks there
To taste the fresh of the morning air;—
Only some lumps of rotting clay,
That were friends or foemen yesterday.
What are the bounds of No Man's Land?
You can see them clearly on either hand,
A mound of rag-bags grey in the sun,
Or a furrow of brown where the earthworks run
From the eastern hills to the western sea,
Through field or forest o'er river and lea;
No man may pass them, but aim you well
And Death rides across on the bullet or shell.
But No Man's Land is a Goblin sight
When patrols crawl over at dead o' night;
Boche or British, Belgian or French,
You dice with death when you cross the trench.
When the "rapid," like fireflies in the dark,
Flits down the parapet spark by spark,
And you drop for cover to keep your head
With your face on the breast of the four months' dead.
The man who ranges in No Man's Land
Is dogged by the shadows on either hand
When the star-shell's flare, as it bursts o'erhead,
Scares the grey rats that feed on the dead,
And the bursting bomb or the bayonet-snatch
May answer the click of your safety-catch,
For the lone patrol, with his life in his hand,
Is hunting for blood in No Man's Land.
"ON LES AURA!"
Soldat Jacques Bonhomme loquitur:
SEE you that stretch of shell-torn mud spotted with pools of mire,
Crossed by a burst abandoned trench and tortured strands of wire,
Where splintered pickets reel and sag and leprous trench-rats play,
That scour the Devil's hunting-ground to seek their carrion prey?
That is the field my father loved, the field that once was mine,
The land I nursed for my child's child as my fathers did long syne.
See there a mound of powdered stones, all flattened, smashed, and torn,
Gone black with damp and green with slime?—Ere you and I were born
My father's father built a house, a little house and bare,
And there I brought my woman home—that heap of rubble there!
The soil of France! Fat fields and green that bred my blood and bone!
Each wound that scars my bosom's pride burns deeper than my own.
But yet there is one thing to say—one thing that pays for all,
Whatever lot our bodies know, whatever fate befall,
We hold the line! We hold it still! My fields are No Man's Land,
But the good God is debonair and holds us by the hand.
"On les aura!" See there! and there! soaked heaps of huddled grey!
My fields shall laugh—enriched by those who sought them for a prey.
THE LAST POST
THE bugler sent a call of high romance—
Lights out! Lights out!—to the deserted square:
On the thin brazen notes he threw a prayer.
God, if it's this for me next time in France
Spare me the phantom bugle as I lie
Dead in the gas and smoke and roar of guns,
Dead in a row with the other shattered ones,
Lying so stiff and still under the sky—
Jolly young Fusiliers, too good to die.
The music ceased, and the red sunset flare
Was blood about his head as he stood there.
ON A TROOPSHIP, 1915
FAREWELL! the village leaning to the hill,
And all the cawing rooks that homeward fly;
The bees; the drowsy anthem of the mill;
And winding pollards, where the plover cry.
We watch the breakers crashing on the bow
And those far flashes in the Eastern haze;
The fields and friends, that were, are fainter now
Than whispering of ancient water-ways.
Now England stirs, as stirs a dreamer wound
In immemorial slumber: lids apart,
Soon will she rouse her giant limbs attuned
To that old music hidden at her heart.
Farewell! the little men! Their menial cries
Are distant as the sparrows' chatterings;
She rises in her circuit of the skies,
An eagle with the dawn upon her wings.
We come to harbour in the breath of wars;
Welcome again the land of our farewells!
In this strange ruin open to the stars
We find the haven, where her spirit dwells:
Where the near guns boom; and the stricken towns are rolled
Skyward athunder with their trail of gold.
HERE lies a clerk who half his life had spent
Toiling at ledgers in a city grey,
Thinking that so his days would drift away
With no lance broken in life's tournament:
Yet ever 'twixt the books and his bright eyes
The gleaming eagles of the legions came,
And horsemen, charging under phantom skies,
Went thundering past beneath the oriflamme.
And now those waiting dreams are satisfied;
From twilight to the halls of dawn he went;
His lance is broken; but he lies content
With that high hour, in which he lived and died.
And falling thus he wants no recompense,
Who found his battle in the last resort;
Nor needs he any hearse to bear him hence,
Who goes to join the men of Agincourt.
BEFORE THE CHARGE
THE night is still and the air is keen,
Tense with menace the time crawls by,
In front is the town and its homes are seen,
Blurred in outline against the sky.
The dead leaves float in the sighing air,
The darkness moves like a curtain drawn,
A veil which the morning sun will tear
From the face of death. We charge at dawn.
IN THE MORNING
THE firefly haunts were lighted yet,
As we scaled the top of the parapet;
But the East grew pale to another fire,
As our bayonets gleamed by the foeman's wire;
And the sky was tinged with gold and grey,
And under our feet the dead men lay,
Stiff by the loopholed barricade;
Food of the bomb and the hand-grenade;
Still in the slushy pool and mud—
Ah! the path we came was a path of blood,
When we went to Loos in the morning.
A little grey church at the foot of a hill,
With powdered glass on the window-sill.
The shell-scarred stone and the broken tile,
Littered the chancel, nave and aisle—
Broken the altar and smashed the pyx,
And the rubble covered the crucifix;
This we saw when the charge was done,
And the gas-clouds paled in the rising sun,
As we entered Loos in the morning.
The dead men lay on the shell-scarred plain,
Where Death and the Autumn held their reign—
Like banded ghosts in the heavens grey
The smoke of the powder paled away;
Where riven and rent the spinney trees
Shivered and shook in the sullen breeze,
And there, where the trench through the graveyard wound,
The dead men's bones stuck over the ground
By the road to Loos in the morning.
The turret towers that stood in the air,
Sheltered a foeman sniper there—
They found, who fell in the sniper's aim,
A field of death on the field of fame;
And stiff in khaki the boys were laid
To the sniper's toll at the barricade,
But the quick went clattering through the town,
Shot at the sniper and brought him down,
As we entered Loos in the morning.
The dead men lay on the cellar stair,
Toll of the bomb that found them there,
In the street men fell as a bullock drops,
Sniped from the fringe of Hulluch copse.
And the choking fumes of the deadly shell
Curtained the place where our comrades fell,—
This we saw when the charge was done,
And the East blushed red to the rising sun
In the town of Loos in the morning.
HOME THOUGHTS FROM LAVENTIE
GREEN gardens in Laventie!
Soldiers only know the street
Where the mud is churned and splashed about
By battle-wending feet;
And yet beside one stricken house there is a glimpse of grass—
Look for it when you pass.
Beyond the church whose pitted spire
Seems balanced on a strand
Of swaying stone and tottering brick,
Two roofless ruins stand;
And here, among the wreckage, where the back-wall should have been,
We found a garden green.
The grass was never trodden on,
The little path of gravel
Was overgrown with celandine;
No other folk did travel
Along its weedy surface but the nimble-footed mouse,
Running from house to house.
So all along the tender blades
Of soft and vivid grass
We lay, nor heard the limber wheels
That pass and ever pass
In noisy continuity until their stony rattle
Seems in itself a battle.
At length we rose up from this ease
Of tranquil happy mind,
And searched the garden's little length
Some new pleasaunce to find;
And there some yellow daffodils, and jasmine hanging high,
Did rest the tired eye.
The fairest and most fragrant
Of the many sweets we found
Was a little bush of Daphne flower
Upon a mossy mound,
And so thick were the blossoms set and so divine the scent,
That we were well content.
Hungry for Spring I bent my head,
The perfume fanned my face,
And all my soul was dancing
In that lovely little place,
Dancing with a measured step from wrecked and shattered towns
Away. . . upon the Downs.
I saw green banks of daffodil,
Slim poplars in the breeze,
Great tan-brown hares in gusty March
A-courting on the leas,
And meadows, with their glittering streams—and silver-scurrying dace—
Home, what a perfect place!
I TOO remember distant golden days
When even my soul was young; I see the sand
Whirl in a blinding pillar towards the band
Of orange sky-line 'neath a turquoise blaze—
(Some burnt-out sky spread o'er a glistening land)
—And slim brown jargoning men in blue and gold,
I know it all so well, I understand
The ecstasy of worship ages-old.
Hear the first truth: The great far-seeing soul
Is ever in the humblest husk; I see
How each succeeding section takes its toll
In fading cycles of old memory.
And each new life the next life shall control
Until perfection reach Eternity.
Ramparts, Ypres, July, 1916.
LIGHT AFTER DARKNESS
ONCE more the Night like some great dark drop-scene
Eclipsing horrors for a brief entr'acte
Descends, lead-weighty. Now the space between,
Fringed with the eager eyes of men, is racked
By spark-tailed lights, curvetting far and high
Swift smoke-flecked coursers, raking the black sky.
And as each sinks in ashes grey, one more
Rises to fall, and so through all the hours
They strive like petty empires by the score,
Each confident of its success and powers,
And hovering at its zenith each will show
Pale rigid faces, lying dead, below.
There shall they lie, tainting the innocent air,
Until the Dawn, deep veiled in mournful grey,
Sadly and quietly shall lay them bare,
The broken heralds of a doleful day.
Hulluch Road, October, 1915.
TO A SKYLARK BEHIND OUR TRENCHES
THOU little voice! Thou happy sprite,
How didst thou gain the air and light—
That sing'st so merrily?
How could such little wings
Give thee thy freedom from these dense
And fetid tombs—these burrows whence
We peer like frightened things?
In the free sky
Thou sail'st while here we crawl and creep
And fight and sleep
How canst thou sing while Nature lies
Bleeding and torn beneath thine eyes,
And the foul breath
Of rank decay hangs like a shroud
Over the fields the shell hath ploughed?
How canst thou sing, so gay and glad,
Whilst all the heavens are filled with death
And all the world is mad?
Yet sing! For at thy song
The tall trees stand up straight and strong
And stretch their twisted arms.
And smoke ascends from pleasant farms
And the shy flowers their odours give.
Once more the riven pastures smile,
And for a while
France, May, 1916.
GOD dreamed a man;
Then, having firmly shut
Life, like a precious metal in his fist,
Withdrew, His labour done. Thus did begin
Our various divinity and sin—
For some to ploughshares did the metal twist,
And others—dreaming Empires—straightway cut
Crowns for their aching foreheads. Others beat
Long nails and heavy hammers for the feet
Of their forgotten Lord. (Who dare to boast
That he is guiltless?) Others coined it: most
Did with it—simply nothing. (Here again
Who cries his innocence?) Yet doth remain
Metal unmarred, to each man more or less,
Whereof to fashion perfect loveliness.
For me, I do but bear within my hand
(For sake of Him, our Lord, now long forsaken)
A simple bugle such as may awaken
With one high morning note a drowsing man:
That wheresoe'er within my motherland
The sound may come, 'twill echo far and wide,
Like pipes of battle calling up a clan,
Trumpeting men through beauty to God's side.
[Written in a German prison camp.]
YON poisonous clod,
(Look! I could touch it with my stick!) that lies
In the next ulcer of this shell-pock'd land
To that which holds me now;
Yon carrion, with its devil-swarm of flies
That scorn the protest of the limp, cold hand,
Seeming half-rais'd to shield the matted brow;
Those festering rags whose colour mocks the sod;
And, O ye gods, those eyes!
Those staring, staring eyes!
How can I gaze unmov'd on sights like these?
What hideous enervation bids me sit
Here in the shelter of this neighbour pit,
Untroubled, unperturbèd, at mine ease,
And idly, coldly scan
This fearsome relic of what once was man?
Alas! what icy spell hath set
The seal upon warm pity? Whence
This freezing up of every sense?
I think not I lack pitifulness;—I know
That my affections were not ever so;
My heart is not of stone!—And yet
There's something in the feeling of this place,
There's something in the breathing of this air,
Which lets me gaze upon that awful face
Quite passionless; which lets me meet that stare
Most quietly.—Nay, I could touch that hair,
And sicken not to feel it coil and cling
About my fingers. Did occasion press,
Lo! I could spurn it with my foot—that thing
Which lies so nigh!—
Spurn it light-heartedly and pass it by.
So cold, so hard, so seeming pitiless
And yet not I alone;—they know full well,
These others, that strange blunting of the heart:
They know the workings of that devil's-art,
Which drains a man's soul dry,
And kills out sensibility!
They know it too, and they can tell
That this distemper strange and fell,
This hideous blotting of the sense,
Creeps on one like a pestilence!
It is some deadly Power of ill
Which overbears all human will!
Some awful influence of the sky,
Some dreadful power of the place,
Wherein we live and breathe and move,
Which withers up the roots of Love
And dries the very springs of Grace.
It is the place!—For, lo, we are in hell.
That is the reason why!
And things that curse and writhe and things that die,
And earful festering things that rot,
—They have their place here. They are not
Like unfamiliar portents hurl'd
From out some monstrous, alien world.
This is their place, their native atmosphere,
Their home;—they are in keeping here!
And, being in hell,
All we, who breathe this tense, fierce air,
—On us too, lies the spell,
Something of that soul-deadening blight we share;
That even the eye is in a sense, made one
With what it looks upon;
That even the brain in some strange fashion wrought,
Twists its familiar thought
To forms and shapes uncouth;
And even the heart—the heart that once did feel
The surge of tears and pity's warm appeal—
Doth quite forget her ancient ruth,
Can look on piteous sights unmov'd,
As though, forsooth, poor fool! she had never lov'd.
. . . . . . . . .
They say we change, we men that come out here.
But do they know how great that change?
And do they know how darkly strange
Are those deep tidal waves that roll
Within the currents of the soul,
Down in the very founts of life,
How can they know it?—Mother, sister, wife,
Friends, comrades, whoso else is dear,
How can they know?—Yet haply, half in fear,
Seeing a long-time absent face once more,
Something they note which was not there before,
—Perchance, a certain habit of the eye,
Perchance, an alter'd accent in the speech—
Showing he is not what he was of yore.
Such little, curious signs they note. Yet each
Doth in its little, nameless way
Some portion of the truth betray.
Such tokens do not lie!
The change is there; the change is true!
And so, what wonder if the outward view
Do to the eye of Love unroll
Some hint of a transformèd soul?
—Some hint; for even Love dare peep
No further in that troubled deep;
And things there be too stern and dark
To live in any outward mark;
The things that they alone can tell,
Like Dante, who have walk'd in hell.
TO-DAY the sun shines bright,
The skies are fair;
There is a delicate freshness in the air,
Which, like a nimble sprite,
Plays lightly on my cheek and lifts my hair.
And, as I look about me—lo!
I see a world I do not know!
As though some soft celestial beam,
Some clean and wholesome grace
Had purgèd half the foulness of the place
To a strange beauty.—Was it then a dream,
That ghostly march, but yesternight,
Beneath the moon's uncertain light,
When, chill at heart, we pick'd our way
Thro' dreadful silent things, that lay
About our path on either hand?
Was it a dream? Is this the self-same land,
The land we pass'd thro' then?
How strange it seems!—Yet 'tis the same!
I see from here the path by which we came.
The tumbled soil, the shatter'd trees are there!
And there, in desolation sleeping,
Almost too pitiful for weeping,
The little village—once the home of men!
Aye! the whole scene is there!
As desperate in its abandonment,
As melancholy-wild and savage-bare
As then.—But somehow, in this warm, bright air
It all seems different!
The same—and yet I know it not!
Thus much I see.—But there's a spot
That's hidden from mine eyes!
Behind the ruin'd church it lies,
Where gaping vaults, beneath the nave,
Have made a dreadful kind of cave;
And there, before the cavern's mouth,
A dark and stagnant pool is spread
So silent and so still!
I saw it last i' th' pale moonlight;
And I could think that shapes uncouth
Crept from that cave at dead of night
With ghoulish stealth, to feast their fill
Upon the pale and huddled dead!
Haply, beneath this warm sunlight,
Even that fearsome pool is bright,
Under the cavern's brow!
So outward fair, that none might guess
The secret of its hideousness,
Nor know what nameless things are done
There, with the setting of the sun!
THE CRICKETERS OF FLANDERS
THE first to climb the parapet
With "cricket balls" in either hand;
The first to vanish in the smoke
Of God-forsaken No Man's Land;
First at the wire and soonest through,
First at those red-mouthed hounds of hell,
The Maxims, and the first to fall,—
They do their bit and do it well.
Full sixty yards I've seen them throw
With all that nicety of aim
They learned on British cricket-fields.
Ah, bombing is a Briton's game!
Shell-hole to shell-hole, trench to trench,
"Lobbing them over" with an eye
As true as though it were a game
And friends were having tea close by.
Pull down some art-offending thing
Of carven stone, and in its stead
Let splendid bronze commemorate
These men, the living and the dead.
No figure of heroic size,
Towering skyward like a god;
But just a lad who might have stepped
From any British bombing squad.
His shrapnel helmet set atilt,
His bombing waistcoat sagging low,
His rifle slung across his back:
Poised in the very act to throw.
And let some graven legend tell
Of those weird battles in the West
Wherein he put old skill to use,
And played old games with sterner zest.
Thus should he stand, reminding those
In less-believing days, perchance,
How Britain's fighting cricketers
Helped bomb the Germans out of France.
And other eyes than ours would see;
And other hearts than ours would thrill;
And others say, as we have said:
"A sportsman and a soldier still!"
A FINGER AND A HUGE, THICK THUMB
(A Ballad of the Trenches)
IT was nearly twelve o'clock by the sergeant's watch;
The moon was three hours high.
The long grass growing on the parapet
Rustled as the wind went by.
Hoar-frost glistened on the bayonets
Of the rifles in the rifle-rack.
Suddenly I heard a faint, weird call
And an answering call come back.
We were standing in the corner by the Maxim gun,
In the shadow, and the sergeant said,
As he gripped my arm: "Did you hear it?"
I could only nod my head.
Looking down the length of the moonlit trench,
I saw the sleeping men
Huddled on the floor; but no one stirred.
Silently we listened again.
A second time it came, still dim and strange,
A far "Hal oo-o-o Halloo-o-o!"
I wouldn't have believed such a ghostly cry
Could sound so clearly, too.
The sentries standing to the right and left
Neither spoke nor stirred.
They stood like stone. Can it be, I thought,
That nobody else has heard?
Then closer at hand, "Halloo-o-o! Halloo-o-o!"
Again the answering call.
"Quick!" said the sergeant as he pulled me down
In the shadow, close to the wall.
I dropped in a heap and none too soon;
For scarcely a rifle length away,
A man stood silent on the parados;
His face was a ghastly grey.
He carried a queer, old muzzle-loading gun;
The bayonet was dim with rust.
His top-boots were muddy, and his red uniform
Covered with blood and dust.
He waited for a moment, then waved his hand,
And they came in twos and threes:
Englishmen, Dutchmen, French cuirassiers,
Highlanders with great bare knees;
Pikemen, archers with huge crossbows,
Lancers and grenadiers;
Men in rusty armour, with battle-dented shields,
With axes and swords and spears.
Great blond giants with long, flowing hair
And limbs of enormous girth;
Yellow men with bludgeons, black men with knives,
From the wild, waste lands of the earth.
The one with the queer, old muzzle-loading gun
Jumped down with a light quick leap.
He was head and shoulders higher than the parapet,
Though the trench was six feet deep
The sentries stood like men in a dream,
With their faces to the German line.
He felt of their arms, their bodies, and their legs,
But they made no sound or sign.
He beckoned to the others, and three jumped in.
I was shaking like a man with a chill;
But I couldn't help smiling when the sergeant said
Through his chattering teeth: "K-k-k-keep s-s-s-still!"
A hairy-armed giant, with rings in his ears,
Stood looking down the dugout stair,
Hands on his knees. Slowly he turned,
And saw us lying there!
With a huge forefinger and a huge, thick thumb
He felt us over, limb by limb.
The two of us together would not have made
One man the size of him.
I could see his scorn, and my face burned hot,
Though my body was cold and numb,
When he spanned my chest so disdainfully
With only a finger and a thumb.
Suddenly the chatter of the sergeant's teeth
Stopped. He was angry, too;
And he whispered: "Are you game? Get the Maxim gun!"
I hugged him. "It will scare them blue."
Slowly, very slowly, we rose to our feet;
I was conscious of my knocking knees.
The murmur of their voices was an eery sound
Like wind in wintry trees.
I saw them staring from the tail of my eye
As the tripod legs were set.
We lifted the gun and clamped it on,
With the muzzle at the parapet.
Nervously I pushed in the tag of the belt;
The sergeant loaded and laid
Quietly, deftly; the click of the lock
Was the only sound he made.
"Ready?" He nodded. I turned my head
And nearly collapsed with fright.
Four of them were standing at my shoulder,
The others to the left and right.
Then, "Fire!" I shouted, and the gun leaped up
With a roar and a spurt of flame.
The sergeant gripped the handles while the belt ran through,
Never stopping to correct his aim.
Fearfully I turned, then jumped to my feet,
Forgetting all about the feed.
They were running like the wind up a long, steep hill,
With the thumb-and-finger man in the lead!
And high above the rattle and roar of the gun
I heard a despairing yell,
As Englishmen, Dutchmen, pikemen, bowmen,
Vanished in the night, pell-mell.
The men who were sleeping in the moonlit trench
Sat up and rubbed their eyes;
And one of them muttered in a drowsy voice:
"Wot to blazes is the row, you guys?"
The sergeant said: "That'll do! That'll do!"
But he whispered to me: "Keep mum!"
They wouldn't have believed that the row was all about
A finger and a huge, thick thumb.
I SEE across the chasm of flying years
The pyre of Dido on the vacant shore;
I see Medea's fury and hear the roar
Of rushing flames, the new bride's burning tears;
And ever as still another vision peers
Thro' memory's mist to stir me more and more,
I say that surely I have lived before
And known this joy and trembled with these fears.
The passion that they show me burns so high;
Their love, in me who have not looked on love,
So fiercely flames; so wildly comes the cry
Of stricken women, the warrior's call above,
That I would gladly lay me down and die
To wake again where Helen and Hector move.
The falling rain is music overhead,
The dark night, lit by no intruding star,
Fit covering yields to thoughts that roam afar
And turn again familiar paths to tread,
Where many a laden hour too quickly sped
In happier times, before the dawn of war,
Before the spoiler had whet his sword to mar
The faithful living and the mighty dead.
It is not that my soul is weighed with woe,
But rather wonder, seeing they do but sleep.
As birds that in the sinking summer sweep
Across the heaven to happier climes to go,
So they are gone; and sometimes we must weep,
And sometimes, smiling, murmur, "Be it so!"
IN our hill-country of the North,
The rainy skies are soft and grey,
And rank on rank the clouds go forth,
And rain in orderly array
Treads the mysterious flanks of hills
That stood before our race began,
And still shall stand when Sorrow spills
Her last tear on the dust of man.
There shall the mists in beauty break
And clinging tendrils finely drawn,
A rose and silver glory make
About the silent feet of dawn;
Till Gable clears his iron sides
And Bowfell's wrinkled front appears,
And Scawfell's clustered might derides
The menace of the marching years.
The tall men of that noble land
Who share such high companionship,
Are scorners of the feeble hand,
Contemners of the faltering lip.
When all the ancient truths depart,
In every strait that men confess,
Stands in the stubborn Cumbrian heart
The spirit of that steadfastness.
In quiet valleys of the hills
The humble grey stone crosses lie,
And all day long the curlew shrills
And all day long the wind goes by.
But on some stifling alien plain
The flesh of Cumbrian men is thrust
In shallow pits, and cries in vain
To mingle with its kindred dust.
Yet those make death a little thing
Who know the settled works of God,
Winds that heard Latin watchwords ring
From ramparts where the Roman trod.
Stars that beheld the last King's crown
Flash in the steel-grey mountain tarn,
And ghylls that cut the live rock down
Before Kings ruled in Ispahan.
And when the sun at even dips
And Sabbath bells are sad and sweet,
When some wan Cumbrian mother's lips
Pray for the son they shall not greet,
As falls that sudden dew of grace
Which makes for her the riddle plain,
The South wind blows to our own place,
And we shall see the hills again.
("Edward Melbourne") William Noel Hodgson
A LEAGUE and a league from the trenches—from the traversed maze of the lines,
Where daylong the sniper watches and daylong the bullet whines,
And the cratered earth is in travail with mines and with countermines—
Here, where haply some woman dreamed (are those her roses that bloom
In the garden beyond the windows of my littered working-room?),
We have decked the map for our masters as a bride is decked for the groom.
Fair, on each lettered numbered square—cross-road and mound and wire,
Loophole, redoubt and emplacement—lie the targets their mouths desire;
Gay with purples and browns and blues, have we traced them their arcs of fire.
And ever the type-keys chatter; and ever our keen wires bring
Word from the watchers a-crouch below, word from the watchers a-wing:
ever we hear the distant growl of our hid guns thundering;
Hear it hardly, and turn again to our maps, where the trench lines crawl,
Red on the grey and each with a sign for the ranging shrapnel's fall—
Snakes that our masters shall scotch at dawn, as is written here on the wall.
For the weeks of our waiting draw to a close. . . . There is scarcely a leaf astir
In the garden beyond my windows, where the twilight shadows blur
The blaze of some woman's roses. . . . "Bombardment orders, sir."
I AM only a cog in a giant machine, a link of an endless chain:
And the rounds are drawn, and the rounds are fired, and the empties return again;
Railroad, lorry, and limber; battery, column, and park;
To the shelf where the set fuse waits the breech, from the quay where the shells embark.
We have watered and fed, and eaten our beef; the long dull day drags by.
As I sit here watching our "Archibalds" strafing an empty sky;
Puff and flash on the far-off blue round the speck one guesses the plane—
Smoke and spark of the gun-machine that is fed by the endless chain.
I am only a cog in a giant machine, a little link in the chain,
Waiting a word from the wagon-lines that the guns are hungry again:—
Column-wagon to battery-wagon, and battery-wagon to gun;
To the loader kneeling 'twixt trail and wheel from the shops where the steam-lathes run.
There's a lone mule braying against the line where the mud cakes fetlock-deep!
There's a lone soul humming a hint of a song in the barn where the drivers sleep;
And I hear the pash of the orderly's horse as he canters him down the lane—
Another cog in the gun-machine, a link in the selfsame chain.
I am only a cog in a giant machine, but a vital link in the chain;
And the Captain has sent from the wagon-line to fill his wagons again;—
From wagon-limber to gunpit dump; from loader's forearm at breech,
To the working-party that melts away when the shrapnel bullets screech.—
So the restless section pulls out once more in column of route from the right,
At the tail of a blood-red afternoon; so the flux of another night
Bears back the wagons we fill at dawn to the sleeping column again . . .
Cog on cog in the gun-machine, link on link in the chain!
THE VOICE OF THE GUNS
WE are the guns, and your masters! Saw ye our flashes?
Heard ye the scream of our shells in the night, and the shuddering crashes?
Saw ye our work by the roadside, the grey wounded lying,
Moaning to God that he made them—the maimed and the dying?
Husbands or sons,
Fathers or lovers, we break them! We are the guns!
We are the guns and ye serve us! Dare ye grow weary,
Steadfast at nighttime, at noontime; or waking, when dawn winds blow dreary
Over the fields and the flats and the reeds of the barrier water,
To wait on the hour of our choosing, the minute decided for slaughter?
Swift the clock runs;
Yes, to the ultimate second. Stand to your guns!
We are the guns and we need you! Here in the timbered
Pits that are screened by the crest and the copse where at dusk ye unlimbered,
Pits that one found us—and finding, gave life (did he flinch from the giving?);
Laboured by moonlight when wraith of the dead brooded yet o'er the living,
Ere, with the sun's
Rising the sorrowful spirit abandoned its guns.
Who but the guns shall avenge him? Strip us for action!
Load us and lay to the centremost hair of the dial-sight's refraction!
Set your quick hands to our levers to compass the sped soul's assoiling;
Brace your taut limbs to the shock when the thrust of the barrel recoiling
Deafens and stuns!
Vengeance is ours for our servants! Trust ye the guns!
Least of our bond-slaves or greatest, grudge ye the burden?
Hard is this service of ours which has only our service for guerdon:
Grow the limbs lax, and unsteady the hands, which aforetime we trusted?
Flawed, the clear crystal of sight; and the clean steel of hardihood rusted?
Are we not tried serfs and proven—true to our guns?
Ye are the guns! Are we worthy? Shall not these speak for us,
Out of the woods where the tree-trunks are slashed with the vain bolts that seek for us,
Thunder of batteries firing in unison, swish of shell fighting,
Hissing that rushes to silence and breaks to the thud of alighting?
Death that outruns
Horseman and foot? Are we justified? Answer, O guns!
Yea! by your works are ye justified—toil unrelievèd;
Manifold labours co-ordinate each to the sending achievèd;
Discipline not of the feet but the soul unremitting unfeignèd;
Tortures unholy by flame and by maiming, known, faced and disdainèd;
Courage that shuns
Only foolhardiness;—even by these are ye worthy your guns!
Wherefore—and unto ye only—power has been given;
Yea! beyond man, over men, over desolate cities and riven;
Yea! beyond space, over earth and the seas and the sky's high dominions;
Yea! beyond time, over Hell and the fiends and the Death-Angel's pinions!
Loose them, and shatter, and spare not! We are the guns!
SHE kissed me when she said good-bye—
A child's kiss, neither bold nor shy.
We had met but a few short summer hours;
Talked of the sun, the wind, the flowers,
Sports and people; had rambled through
A casual catchy song or two,
And walked with arms linked to the car
By the light of a single misty star.
(It was war-time, you see, and the streets were dark
Lest the ravishing Hun should find a mark.)
And so we turned to say good-bye;
But somehow or other, I don't know why,
Perhaps t'was the feel of the khaki coat
(She'd a brother in Flanders then) that smote
Her heart to a sudden tenderness
Which issued in that swift caress—
Somehow, to her, at any rate
A mere hand-clasp seemed inadequate;
And so she lifted her dewy face
And kissed me—but without a trace
Of passion,—and we said good-bye . . .
A child's kiss. . . . neither bold nor shy.
My friend, I like you—it seemed to say—
Here's to our meeting again some day!
Some happier day . . .
O, a lush green English meadow—it's there that I would lie—
A skylark singing overhead, scarce present to the eye,
And a row of wind-blown poplars against an English sky.
The elm is aspiration and death is in the yew,
And beauty dwells in every tree from Lapland to Peru;
But there's magic in the poplars when the wind goes through.
When the wind goes through the poplars and blows them silver white,
The wonder of the universe is flashed before my sight:
I see immortal visions; I know a god's delight.
I catch the secret rhythm that steals along the earth,
That swells the bud, and splits the burr, and gives the oak its girth,
That mocks the blight and canker with its eternal birth.
It wakes in me the savour of old forgotten things,
Before "reality" had marred the child's imaginings:
I can believe in fairies—I see their shimmering wings.
I see with the clear vision of that untainted prime,
Before the fool's bells jangled in and Elfland ceased to chime,
That sin and pain and sorrow are but a pantomime—
A dance of leaves in ether, of leaves threadbare and sere,
From whose decaying husks at last what glory shall appear
When the white winter angel leads in the happier year.
And so I sing the poplars; and when I come to die
I will not look for jasper walls, but cast about my eye
For a row of wind-blown poplars against an English sky.
Oxford, September, 1916.
HOPE and mirth are gone. Beauty is departed.
Heaven's hid in smoke, if there's Heaven still.
Silent the city, friendless, broken-hearted,
Crying in quiet as a widow will.
Oh, for the sound here of a good man's laughter,
Of one blind beggar singing in the street,
Where there's no sound, excepting a blazing rafter
Falls, or the patter of a starved dog's feet.
I have seen Death, and comrades' crumbled faces,
Yea, I have closed dear eyes with half a smile;
But horror's in this havoc of old places
Where driven men once rested from their hurry
And girls were happy for a little while,
Forgiving, praying, singing, feeling sorry.
FAR up at Glorian the wind is sighing.
And, as the light grows less,
Across the downland sounds the plovers' crying,
The voice of loneliness.
Thither, from this sad waste of waters streaming,
All the unending night,
My heart returns, to see by Kennet gleaming
One cottage window-light.
Yet for your sake it is that I must roam now,
Dear lands, dear lads I know;
I love you so, I could not stay at home now,
Nor pay the debt I owe.
LINES WRITTEN IN A FIRE-TRENCH
TIS midnight, and above the hollow trench,
Seen through a gaunt wood's battle-blasted trunks
And the stark rafters of a shattered grange,
The quiet sky hangs huge and thick with stars.
And through the vast gloom, murdering its peace,
Guns bellow and their shells rush swishing ere
They burst in death and thunder, or they fling
Wild jangling spirals round the screaming air.
Bullets whine by, and Maxims drub like drums,
And through the heaped confusion of all sounds
One great gun drives its single vibrant "Broum,"
And scarce five score of paces from the wall
Of piled sandbags and barb-toothed nets of wire,
(So near and yet what thousand leagues away!)
The unseen foe both adds and listens to
The self-same discord, eyed by the same stars.
Deep darkness hides the desolated land,
Save where a sudden flare sails up and bursts
In whitest glare above the wilderness,
And for one instant lights with lurid pallor
The tense, packed faces in the black redoubt.
BACK TO LONDON: A POEM OF LEAVE
I HAVE not wept when I have seen
My stricken comrades die;
I have not wept when we have made
The place where they should lie;
My heart seemed drowned in tears, but still
No tear came to my eye.
There is a time to weep, saith One,
A season to refrain;
How should it ope, this fount of tears,
While I sat in the train,
So that all blurred the landscape moved
Out with the window-pane?
But one short day since I had left
A land upheaved and rent,
Where Spring brings back no bourgeoning,
As Nature's force were spent,
Yet now I travelled in a train
Thro' the kindly land of Kent!
A kindly land, a pleasant land,
As welcome sight to me
As after purgatorial pains
The Plains of Heaven might be,
When the wondrous Goodness that is God
Draws a soul from jeopardy.
A pleasant land, a peaceful land
Of wooded hill and weald,
Where kine stand knee-deep in the grass,
And sheep graze in the field;
A blessèd land, where a wounded heart
Might readily be healed.
A wholesome land, where each white road
Leads to a ruddy hearth;
Where still is heard the sound of song
And the kindly note of mirth;
Where the strong man cheerful wakes to toil
And the dead sleep sound i' the earth.
I have not wept when I have seen
My chosen comrades die;
I have not wept while we have digged
The grave where they should lie;
But now I lay my head in my hand
Lest my comrades see me cry.
The little children, two by two,
Stand on the five-barred gate,
And wave their hands to waft us home
Like passengers of state;
My heart is very full, so full
It holds no room for hate.
The children climb the five-barred gate
And blow us kisses five,
The little cripple in his car
Waves from the carriage drive
Blessed are the dead, but blessed e'en more
We soldiers still alive!
Lo! we draw near to London town,
The troop-train jolts and drags,
The friendly poor come forth once more
To greet us in their rags—
The very linen on the line
Flutters and flaunts like flags!
The girls within the factory grim
Smile at the broken pane;
The seamstress in her lonely room
Sighs o'er her task again;
The servant shakes her duster forth
To signal our speeding train;
The station names go flitting past
Like old familiar friends;
The smoke cloud with the clouds aloft
In wondrous fashion blends,
And lo! we enter London town,
To where all journeying ends.
I have not wept when I have seen
A hundred comrades die;
I have not wept when that we shaped
The house where they must lie—
But now I hide my head in my hand
Lest my comrades see me cry.
These are the scenes, these the dear souls,
'Mid which our lot was cast,
To this loved land, if Fate be kind,
We shall return at last,
For this our stern steel line we hold—
Lord, may we hold it fast!
WHEN first I saw you in the curious street
Like some platoon of soldier ghosts in grey,
My mad impulse was all to smite and slay,
To spit upon you—tread you 'neath my feet.
But when I saw how each sad soul did greet
My gaze with no sign of defiant frown,
How from tired eyes looked spirits broken down,
How each face showed the pale flag of defeat,
And doubt, despair, and disillusionment,
And how were grievous wounds on many a head,
And on your garb red-faced was other red;
And how you stooped as men whose strength was spent,
I knew that we had suffered each as other,
And could have grasped your hand and cried, "My brother!"
THE CHALLENGE OF THE GUNS
BY day, by night, along the lines their dull boom rings,
And that reverberating roar its challenge flings.
Not only unto thee across the narrow sea,
But from the loneliest vale in the last land's heart
The sad-eyed watching mother sees her sons depart.
And freighted full the tumbling waters of ocean are
With aid for England from England's sons afar.
The glass is dim; we see not wisely, far, nor well,
But bred of English bone, and reared on Freedom's wine,
All that we have and are we lay on England's shrine.
RED POPPIES IN THE CORN
I'VE seen them in the morning light,
When white mists drifted by:
I've seen them in the dusk o' night
Glow 'gainst the starry sky.
The slender waving blossoms red,
Mid yellow fields forlorn:
A glory on the scene they shed,
Red Poppies in the Corn.
I've seen them, too, those blossoms red,
Show 'gainst the Trench lines' screen.
A crimson stream that waved and spread
Thro' all the brown and green:
I've seen them dyed a deeper hue
Than ever nature gave,
Shell-torn from slopes on which they grew
To cover many a grave.
Bright blossoms fair by nature set
Along the dusty ways,
You cheered us, in the battle's fret,
Thro' long and weary days:
You gave us hope: if fate be kind,
We'll see that longed-for morn,
When home again we march and find
Red Poppies in the Corn.
HORSE BATHING PARADE
A FEW clouds float across the grand blue sky,
The glorious sun has mounted zenith-high,
Mile upon mile of sand, flat, golden, clean,
And bright, stretch north and south, and fringed with green,
The rough dunes fitly close the landward view.
All else is sea; somewhere in misty blue
The distant coast seems melting into air—
Earth, sky, and ocean, all commingling there—
And one bold, lonely rock, whose guardian light
Glistens afar by day, a spire snow-white.
Here, where the ceaseless blue-green rollers dash
Their symmetry to dazzling foam and flash,
We ride our horses, silken flanks ashine,
Spattered and soaked with flying drops of brine,
The sunny water tosses round their knees,
Their smooth tails shimmer in the singing breeze.
White streaks of foam sway round us, to and fro,
With shadows swaying on the sand below;
The horses snort and start to see the foam,
And hear the breaking roar of waves that come,
Or, pawing, splash the brine, and so we stand,
And hear the surf rush hissing up the sand.
BY all the glories of the day
And the cool evening's benison,
By that last sunset touch that lay
Upon the hills when day was done,
By beauty lavishly outpoured
And blessings carelessly received,
By all the days that I have lived,
Make me a soldier, Lord.
By all of all man's hopes and fears,
And all the wonders poets sing,
The laughter of unclouded years,
And every sad and lovely thing;
By the romantic ages stored
With high endeavour that was his,
By all his mad catastrophes,
Make me a man, O Lord.
I, that on my familiar hill
Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Ere the sun swings his noonday sword
Must say good-bye to all of this;—
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.
(A Soul Remembers)
ONCE, in my moment of earth,
Before the immortal re-birth,
I thought of my flesh as a thing
Like to the house of a king,—
Beautiful, worthy to stand
Proud on the heavenly strand.
I remember it now as a clod
Prone in the gardens of God,—
Mean, without honour or beauty,
Justified but by the duty
Of spending its pittance of power
In rearing a heavenly flower.
A CONFESSION OF FAITH
WHO would remember me were I to die,
Remember with a pang and yet no pain;
Remember as a friend, and feel good-bye
Said at each memory as it wakes again?
I would not that a single heart should ache—
That some dear heart will ache is my one grief.
Friends, if I have them, I would fondly take
With me that best of gifts, a friend's belief.
I have believed, and for my faith, reaped tares;
Believed again, and, losing, was content;
A heart perchance touched blindly, unawares,
Rewards with friendship faith thus freely spent.
Bury the body—it has served its ends;
Mark not the spot, but "On Gallipoli,"
Let it be said, "he died." Oh, Hearts of Friends,
If I am worth it, keep my memory.
IT'S Autumn-time on Salisbury Plain.
Let it be Autumn-time again
When life is cured of this black pain
And I go home, go home again,
By Highgate on the Hill.
For there's a little wood I know
Where all the trees of wonder grow,
And shadows like cool waters flow
'Twixt ivied banks on beds of moss,—
Mingle and merge and fade and cross.
And you may come and you may go
And never in that holy place
Look upon a German face.
The trees have all grown as they will
In the wood by Highgate on the Hill:
Great oaks with many a lichen sash
And elm and birch, and may and ash,
In twos and threes they stand together
In all the splendid autumn weather.
And in between and left and right
Are laurel bushes green and bright,
Acorns and chestnuts patter down
On leaves all gold and red and brown,
All gold and red and brown and grey,
That dance the afternoon away.
October's quick and golden rains
Wander in rivers down the lanes,
Or make, in hollows, little ponds
Where pebbles shine like diamonds.
From breakfast-time till after tea
In ev'ry branch of ev'ry tree
The starlings, like a lot of boys,
For love of life make heaps of noise:
Such noise,—there is no gladder sound
In all the glad year's tuneful round;
Such placid anger, peaceful rage—
What actors on what airy stage,
What comedy for what a wage!
Children and birds and autumn trees,—
The world were well content with these.
When bloody William and his son
Are safely dead at last, and one
May go believing there's no dearth
Of glory yet upon the Earth,—
A glory, not of fire and smoke
And things that burst and blind and choke,
A wonder, not of eyes that turn
To some new thing to blast and burn,
A wisdom, not of thrusts and stabs
And stripes and stars and scarlet tabs,
A worship, not of poisoned breath
And little children done to death,—
These shall delight my soul at last
When then is now and now is past,
Where the many-scented dews distil
In the wood by Highgate on the Hill.
There I shall find forgotten themes,
And empty husks of faded dreams
Whose seed, far scattered, soon or late,
Shall find soil and germinate;
Remember I am still a boy
And haply rediscover joy,
Youth and all that follows after
Vanished vision and lost laughter.
All the wood will shout and sing
At my great remembering,
Ev'ry leaf will be a voice
Tuned to welcome and rejoice,
Sky and wind and blade and tree
Stretch forth hands to welcome me.
Deep in the wood lie hidden springs
Of half of life's delightful things.
A stirring leaf, a bird in flight
Will start soft flames of coloured light
That leap and dance and flash and burn
Through waving grass and feathery fern.
Music will tell an ancient tale
When moonrise wakes a nightingale.
Here is the rich, sweet smell of earth,
Movement and melody and mirth:
Such mirth as flashes from the eyes
Of Gabriel in Paradise,
Such melody as when he sings,
Such movement as his flaming wings,
For woods and Paradise are one
When seen beneath an autumn sun.
I shall be home again and hear
Sounds that subdue the soul's worst fear.
I shall be home again and find
All that is pitiful and kind,
Healing for nerves left torn and sore
By red monotony of War.
O Wood by Highgate on the Hill,
When fighting's over be there still!
CAMBRAI AND MARNE
BEFORE our trenches at Cambrai
We saw their columns cringe away.
We saw their masses melt and reel
Before our line of leaping steel.
A handful to their storming hordes
We scourged them with the scourge of swords,
And still, the more we slew, the more
Came up, for every slain a score.
Between the hedges and the town
Their cursing squadrons we rode down.
To stay them we outpoured our blood
Between the beetfields and the wood.
In that red hell of shrieking shell
Unfaltering our gunners fell.
They fell, or ere the day was done,
Beside the last unshattered gun.
But still we held them, like a wall
On which the breakers vainly fall—
Till came the word, and we obeyed,
Reluctant, bleeding, undismayed.
Our feet, astonished, learned retreat,
Our souls rejected still defeat.
Unbroken still, a lion at bay,
We drew back grimly from Cambrai.
In blood and sweat, with slaughter spent,
They thought us beaten as we went;
Till suddenly we turned and smote
The shout of triumph in their throat.
At last, at last we turned and stood—
And Marne's fair water ran with blood.
We stood by trench and steel and gun,
For now the indignant flight was done.
We ploughed their shaken ranks with fire.
We trod their masses into mire.
Our sabres drove through their retreat,
As drives the whirlwind through young wheat.
At last, at last we flung them back
Along their drenched and smoking track.
We hurled them back, in blood and flame,
The reeking ways by which they came.
By cumbered road and desperate ford,
How fled their shamed and harassed horde!
Shout, Sons of Freemen, for the day
When Marne so well avenged Cambrai.
LORD God of battle and of pain,
Of triumph and defeat,
Our human pride, our strength's disdain
Judge from Thy mercy-seat;
Turn Thou our blows of bitter death
To Thine appointed end;
Open our eyes to see beneath
Each honest foe a friend.
Give us to fight with banners bright
And flaming swords of faith;
We pray Thee to maintain Thy right
In face of hell and death.
Smile Thou upon our arms, and bless
Our colours in the field,
Add Thou, to righteous aims, success
With peace and mercy seal'd.
Father and Lord of friend and foe
All-seeing and all-wise,
Thy balm to dying hearts bestow,
Thy sight to sightless eyes;
To the dear dead give life, where pain
And death no more dismay,
Where, amid Love's long terrorless Reign,
All tears are wiped away.
UPON his will he binds a radiant chain,
For Freedom's sake he is no longer free.
It is his task, the slave of Liberty,
With his own blood to wipe away a stain.
That pain may cease, he yields his flesh to pain
To banish war, he must a warrior be.
He dwells in Night, eternal Dawn to see,
And gladly dies, abundant life to gain.
What matters Death, if Freedom be not dead?
No flags are fair, if Freedom's flag be furled.
Who fights for Freedom, goes with joyful tread
To meet the fires of Hell against him hurled,
And has for captain Him whose thorn-wreathed head
Smiles from the Cross upon a conquered world.
- Written in fire trench above "Glencorse Wood," Westhoeck, April 11, 1915.